Positive Coaching for confined water teaching

“We should NEVER mention the word “problem”, “issue” or any other negative word in a confined water de-briefing”   –

That is the message that I’m getting from so many experienced Staff or Master Instructors. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been teaching Coaching Academy Updates to PADI professionals. Usually the people that attend are very successful and have themselves developed great teaching methods. The message that I get time and time again is never to suggest that the student needs improvement in the first place.

PADI have always advocated Positivity. During the EFR Instructor training, much is made of “POSITIVE COACHING”. In the IDC, PADI uses the term “POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT” Sadly, these terms have been interpreted by some Instructors as continuous hand shaking, high fives and little dances, whenever a student diver does anything at all!

According to Mueller and Dweck (1998) meaningless praise leads to de-motivation, and lower self – esteem! After the age of around 12, we interpret meaningless praise as “encouragement” rather than praise. So continuously patronising people is neither sincere nor relevant.

Let’s go back to PADI’s words. POSITIVE COACHING.   The word Coaching gives us a big clue. It’s nothing to do with praise, nor encouragement. This is to do with Improving Performance. We don’t have to go far outside of diving to find examples of successful sports coaching.

Professional Coaches know that Motivation and performance are to do with the “internal messages” that goes on inside every person’s mind.

Each one of us has our own unique, individual learning style, Successful coaches know that people need to visualise correct techniques to succeed.

Henry Ford famously said:
If you think that you can do something.. You can.
If you think that you can’t do something! You can’t
Successful coaches know that people need to know correct techniques, and able to visualise and believe that they can do them.

So, how do we as PADI professionals make sure that our student divers can visualise correct techniques? . To find that out, we need to remind ourselves of the situation that they are in. Let’s think of a time when we learnt something for the first time. Whether it’s, riding a bike, swimming, hitting a golf ball, driving a car, the list is endless.
Learning a new skill can be confusing. We can go to PADI Materials for advice:
The EFR instructor manual urges Instructors to remember that learning new skills involves “process sequence” and “Skill technique” It advises instructors to allow people to get the process sequence correct before attempting perfection.

When we put ourselves in the situation of learning a new skill, we realise that it can be confusing. We find it difficult to remember clear details or remember sequence. For us, this is normal. We don’t remember!
Watch a comedian on stage, Read a book, Watch a documentary on TV.., you’ll be hard pushed to recall details, or the order that they were given.

This means that when a student diver performs a skill underwater for the first time, they have a lot to take in! Not only performing the skill, but also the position, the timing, the speed etc. all have to be learnt.
Often the student gets the skill correct first time! This is usually due to visualisation work that the Instructor has performed during classroom sessions and briefings. However, even when the student has met the performance requirement right away, most could benefit from visualising aspects of the skill that could be improved.

Once again, we can look to PADI materials to find out how to do this On the Confined Water evaluation slate we are told to
“Reinforce proper technique with additional communication”
Let’s imagine how this can happen:  The Student recovers a regulator, a little nervous, and releases a very slow and weak steam of tiny bubbles from their mouth.

Immediately the Instructor should give POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. We know that praise needs to be VERY SPECIFIC in WHY the person is getting praised. We are dealing with their sub conscious here. We’re creating visualisation. The Instructor shakes a hand and indicates that the Praise is for BREATHING OUT in a very positive manner, using an exaggerated hand gesture to get the point across.
BUT wait!!! I hear some Instructors cry! The Student didn’t do that!! They were weak. We NEED TO TELL THEM!!!
But this goes against all evidence.

Like us, the student will struggle to recall clearly the whole process.

We need to follow PADI’s recommendation. We need to give detailed praise for Blowing out bubbles strongly. This will override any mental image that the student has. They will “see themselves” or visualise themselves as blowing out bubbles.

We can dig deeper into psychology to find out why this works.

“Visualization activates the same neural networks that actual task performance does, which can strengthen the connection between brain and body. There’s no question that this mental processing results in real-life improvement” explains neuroscientist Stephen Kosslyn,

Even when a Student makes a bigger mistake: For example breathes out of their mouth, when clearing a mask. Once corrected, and after the student has completed the skill the Instructor needs to follow PADI’s advice very literally. With very specific POSITIVE COACHING. Shake their hand and give the reason why… a HUGE stroke of your own nose to let the student know that the way that they blew out of their nose was brilliant! They will now immediately remember that they were good at Blowing out of their nose. .

The Instructor can strengthen self-confidence and self-esteem during the de-brief. Using very specific POSTIVE COACHING, the Instructor reinforces exactly what they reinforced underwater, this time verbally. If the student was weak with blowing out bubbles… then the Positive Reinforcement needs to be: “Terrific that was great the way that you blew out of your mouth! Nice and strong! Exactly what is needed!”
And for the person who at first struggled with breathing out through the nose.. “Wonderful! You got all of that water right out of your mask by breathing forcefully out of your nose! That was brilliant!”

Of course follow this as usual by asking the class why they felt that they learned this skill, and get one of them to re-read the performance requirement to the class. As I said at the beginning, the most experienced Instructors are naturally doing this. For Staff Instructors (Course Directors and PADI Examiners) with an Open Mind..   Simply giving reinforcement of correct procedure of a weakness, ticks 3 boxes:
Positive Reinforcement
Problem (although NEVER overtly)
Solution.

However, I’m hoping that the new IDC format will accommodate this technique.